Janice Jackson joined the ranks of mayoral appointees whose tenure we, the ordinary citizens, must forever praise.
Janice Jackson joined the ranks of mayoral appointees whose tenure we, the ordinary citizens, must forever praise. Credit: Courtesy CPS

In the last few days, we’ve been having one of those feeding frenzies in which the powers that be who run our fair city create some manufactured crisis so we open our mouths and they collectively shovel in some bullshit.

As if to say—eat up, Chicago! It’s good for you.

In this case, the crisis is the uncertainty created when Janice Jackson, the Rahm-appointed CEO of the public schools, revealed she was stepping down at the end of the school year.

Or as she announced—in not so many words—see ya’, wouldn’t want to be ya’ . . . 

With that, Janice Jackson joined the ranks of exalted mayoral appointees whose tenure we, the ordinary citizens, must forever praise with gratitude. ’Cause without them, we’d be lost.

Think Paul Vallas, Gery Chico, Garry “Big Mac” McCarthy.

Eddie Johnson might be on that list. Except he made the mistake of getting caught in a bar kissing a woman who wasn’t his wife. Resulting in a messy departure for which our city’s mythmakers have yet to figure out a narrative. So, we’re sort of supposed to forget he was ever among us.

Back to Janice Jackson . . .

She was heralded as an only-in-Chicago success story. A woman who rose through the ranks from teacher to principal to CEO—exalted ruler of the public-school universe.

And what is the lesson to be learned from Jackson’s time as school boss? Easy, the same one to be learned from when Vallas and Chico ran the show in the late 90s.

Our leaders are wise and benevolent. Especially our mayors—who’re right, even when they’re wrong.

Also, we must never listen to that evil teachers union, which is run by leftist ideologues. And we must never ever move from an appointed school board to an elected one. No, no—must not do that. Because that means more democracy. And democracy is so political and so messy. As opposed to mayoral rule, which is clean and free of politics.

Got that, Chicago? 

So, forget for the moment that Mayor Rahm appointed Janice Jackson as CEO after her mayor-appointed predecessor, Forrest Claypool, got caught in a scandal in which special education money was used for things having little to do with special education.

And that Mayor Rahm appointed Claypool as CEO when his mayor-appointed predecessor, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, got caught in a scandal that eventually sent her to federal prison.

That’s the one in which Byrd-Bennett convinced the mayor-appointed school board to sign a $23 million principal consulting contract with a bunch of grifters who promised to kick her back a little of the good stuff.

So she could play the slots and take care of her grandchildren’s college education. Or as she put it in an e-mail uncovered by federal prosecutors: “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit.”

A line that’s arguably the greatest contribution any mayoral appointee has made to Chicago—at least in this century.

Byrd-Bennett proved her usefulness to Mayor Rahm by being the front person when he closed 50 schools, mostly in Black communities.

And Jackson proved her usefulness to Mayor Rahm by being the front person in his political feud with Troy LaRaviere, then the principal of Blaine Elementary School. 

LaRaviere had made a name for himself by taking strong stands against Rahm’s privatization schemes, endorsing Jesús “Chuy” García for mayor, and then making a 2016 commercial for Bernie Sanders in which he said: “The chief politician standing in the way of us getting good schools is our mayor.”

Soon thereafter, Jackson came to Blaine to assure the school’s community that LaRaviere had done something so egregious that CPS had to suspend him. LaRaviere later resigned.

Jackson refused to say what he had allegedly done. But she suggested that one day we’d all thank her for punishing him for having done it. Whatever it was.

She never did get around to revealing just what it was that LaRaviere did—probably because there was nothing to be revealed. And LaRaviere went on to get elected president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, which, as the name suggests, is an association of principals and administrators from Chicago’s public schools.

And so, Jackson spent much of her four-year tenure as CEO not getting along with the leaders selected by the principals and teachers. Apparently, open hostility to the groups that represent your employees is seen as great leadership in Chicago.

Jackson didn’t mention LaRaviere when she announced she was stepping down. But she made a point of taking a few veiled shots at—who else? —the Chicago Teachers Union.

She rued the “ugly politics” our system had become. As if her very public dismissal of LaRaviere wasn’t exhibit A of the long-standing politicization of Chicago’s schools.

To help drive home the message, both downtown papers used her departure to bash CTU and warn against an elected school board.

They cite many reasons for opposing an elected board, but my favorite, for irony, comes when they declare the importance of making sure the mayor is free to appoint business leaders who understand finances and can act as wise stewards of the public purse.

Never mind that mayoral appointees from the business community signed on to Byrd-Bennett’s consulting scam and some really dumbass borrowing schemes that squandered millions in bank fees and interest payments.

I know about these schemes thanks to the painstaking efforts of Heather Gillers and Jason Grotto from their days as investigative reporters for the Chicago Tribune.

Apparently, editorialists don’t read the articles that their reporter colleagues dutifully write.

Well, enough of my jaded observations for the day. It’s feeding time, Chicago.

Open your mouths. Bite down. Swallow. Enjoy your meal. If you’re well-behaved, they’ll feed you dessert.  v